Originally published Tuesday, January 22, 2019 at 11:45a.m.

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — As the only national park in the U.S. with a school serving grades kindergarten through 12th grade school, Grand Canyon National Park has more than its share of students whose parents are employeed by the federal government and on who are on furlough because of the current government shutdown.

Grand Canyon School (GCS) and other local organizations are doing what they can to make sure the needs are met and students and families are taken care of during this time.

“These are working families that aren’t getting paid. Some of them are single parent families — some are single income, some are double income and we know that that’s going to affect them at some point,” said Lori Rommel, assistant principal at GCS.

During weekly meetings school administration have encouraged teachers and staff to be aware of and sensitive to how the shutdown could be affecting students.

“We have heard from a few students whose parent or parents work for the park service — some comments from students are (parent’s remark), ‘Oh, we’ll be OK for a few months,’ or ‘I’m glad my mom or dad is still working and hopefully they’ll get paid at some point,’” Rommel said.

As of right now, Rommel said a lot of the impacts are more subtle than obvious.

“As I make my way through the school and visit classrooms and visit with parents and teachers I haven’t directly seen any type of impact, positive or negative — that doesn’t mean we’re not going to assume that there’s no problem,” she said.

Rommel said one of the ways the school is trying to step up is by increasing its participation with St. Mary’s Backpack Program. Through the program students are provided with a backpack that is filled with canned goods and non-perishable foods items.

“Kids can come and get it, there is no questions asked,” she said.

Additionally, culinary art teacher, Justin Warnat and culinary art students are providing soup dinners at the Grand Canyon Recreation Center on Friday nights. Starting last week, the soup dinners will be made available to NPS families, employees and all other members of Grand Canyon Village.

Serena Sloan, a parent at Grand Canyon School who works for Grand Canyon Conservancy, said her family has pulled together to make ends meet.

“My mom works for the government so I’m trying to work as much as I can, my family members are trying to work as much as they can,” she said. “I have three kids who are in school — traveling for their basketball games is kind of hard, so we try to carpool for the moment.”

Rommel said another way the shutdown has impacted the school is by delaying the approval of 50 megabits of internet at the school. 

“Currently, we have only 10 (megabits),” she said. “The board approved the school to work with an internet provider for this service, but it needs to go through the process of being approved by the NPS because we live in a national park.”

Because of the shutdown, the process has been stalled and, according to Rommel, not having the extra megabits impacts learning since it limits the amount of students that can be online at once.

While technology might be stalled at GCS, community members like Sloan and school administration are encouraging anyone who might need help to reach out.

“I haven’t heard anybody say that they need this or they need that, but we’re a good community, so if that person needs help and we’re able to help them (or) if that person is willing to watch our kids or whoever’s kids we’re willing to do that,” Sloan said. “We’re like one big, happy community who help one another.”

“We want to support all the families and all the students that are being affected by this and if we can help assist them with more food, help them with lunch programs — anything like that. We encourage all of them to come to the school and we will do the best that we can to help,” she said. “We’re in the kid business.”

More information about school programs is available from Grand Canyon School at (928) 638-2461.

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